Four Thoughts from Lamentations 1 and 2

The Book of Lamentations is not often an easy book to read. The words are not hard, but the picture is so very sad. The people of Judah have sinned against God, and the Lord has, as he promised, brought judgment down on the city of Jerusalem. The Babylonians have come in, destroyed the city, and taken most of the people captive. And the prophet Jeremiah witnessed it all.

As I was reading through the first two chapters of Lamentations, a few individual verses got my attention. So, for this post, I decided that I would write a couple of brief thoughts on the verses that stood out to me, some verses which offer thoughts we want to remember.

Lamentations 1:9

Her uncleanness was in her skirts;
she took no thought of her future;
therefore her fall is terrible;
she has no comforter.
“O Lord, behold my affliction,
for the enemy has triumphed!”

The first thought that grabbed my attention is that simple line, “She took no thought for her future.” The people of Jerusalem, by the time of its fall, had simply stopped caring about the future. The people were so into their sin against the Lord that considering the days to come was beyond their scope of thought. They lived for the now, and then they suffered the consequences.

Many of us know what this is like. Around us, we find many who will plan for their financial future. They will plan for retirement and buy insurance. But the same people have no consideration for the Day of the Lord. They are not concerned about what will happen when they meet God. They have not cared about the judgment to come. This is dangerous.

So, the first point I’ll make from Lamentations is the call for us to pay attention to the future. No, I’m not worried so much here about your retirement. Instead, I am suggesting that you take care not to ignore the fact that God has made you for an eternal existence. Think to your future. How will you stand before the Holy God who made you?

Lamentations 1:18

“The Lord is in the right,
for I have rebelled against his word;
but hear, all you peoples,
and see my suffering;
my young women and my young men
have gone into captivity.

The second line that got my attention is the simple phrase, “The Lord is in the right.” Jeremiah has seen the city fall. He has witnessed people going captive to Babylon. And Jeremiah declares that the Lord is in the right.

There are, of course, many reasons that Jeremiah will give us to explain why the Lord is in the right. But what I have on my mind is the simple fact that, regardless of those reasons, Jeremiah is starting from the right place. The assumption that we must make is always that the Lord is in the right. It is impossible for the Holy One to be in the wrong. God has no evil within him. The Lord cannot do evil. The Lord makes no mistakes and is never overpowered. Thus, we must always know that God is God, and that means that God is always in the right.

Lamentations 1:21

“They heard my groaning,
yet there is no one to comfort me.
All my enemies have heard of my trouble;
they are glad that you have done it.
You have brought the day you announced;
now let them be as I am.

The line that got my attention here is the phrase, “You have brought the day you announced.” Jeremiah is here saying that God has judged the people of Jerusalem as the enemies of God looked on and laughed. Now Jeremiah is asking that God also judge those evil men for taking joy in the city’s destruction.

But notice that this day that has brought upon Jeremiah is a day that the Lord had announced. God told the people this would come. God warned against it. But the people did not care. They chose to assume that the Lord would not bring his judgment upon them as he promised. They chose to think that God would not keep his word. And this was to their destruction.

May we learn from this. God keeps his promises. There are things that God has promised that may feel too far off to matter to us. But we dare not assume that God will not keep his word. What God has said, that he will do. Jesus will return. All humanity will stand before his seat of judgment. All in Christ will be rewarded. All apart from Christ will face judgment. These are eternal judgments. But let us not assume that, because they seem far removed from us, they will not come. God will do all he has said he would do.

Lamentations 2:14

Your prophets have seen for you
false and deceptive visions;
they have not exposed your iniquity
to restore your fortunes,
but have seen for you oracles
that are false and misleading.

Here in the final verse I will include for this morning, we see Jeremiah lamenting the fact that the people have fallen for the lies of false prophets. The nation chose not to believe the clear word of God. They chose not to take the words of Holy Scripture to heart. Instead, they chose to believe their own modern teachers who contradicted Scripture with happy promises of prosperity.

Of course this is a danger for our world too. Many people are ignoring Scripture. Many people are preaching things the Bible never said. Many are telling us that God has changed his view on certain actions. But the Lord is unchanged. The word of God still stands. And we must be careful not to listen to those who say what our sinful hearts first want to hear. Instead, we need to hear those who speak to us the true, unchanging, unfettered, uncompromising word of God.

Two Ways to Handle Scripture

How do you respond to the word of God? There are really only two options. A person will either hear the word of the Lord, fear God, and obey, or they will turn their back on the Lord and face judgment.

In Jeremiah 36, watch the response of King Jehoiakim when the word of God is read to him. While sitting near a nice cozy fire, the king had a chance to hear God’s word and repent.

Jeremiah 36:22-24 – 22 It was the ninth month, and the king was sitting in the winter house, and there was a fire burning in the fire pot before him. 23 As Jehudi read three or four columns, the king would cut them off with a knife and throw them into the fire in the fire pot, until the entire scroll was consumed in the fire that was in the fire pot. 24 Yet neither the king nor any of his servants who heard all these words was afraid, nor did they tear their garments.

Depending on what one believes the word of God to be, this is either a non-event or a terrifying act of hubris.

While there are many different pieces of evidence for the accuracy, authority, and inspiration of Scripture, I’ll not go into them here. The truth is, the word of God is real. The God who made us has spoken to us. He has spoken through prophets and later apostles. He has recorded his word for us in holy Scripture, what we now call the Bible. And to mess with or ignore the Bible is a serious offense before the Lord.

The king heard God’s word, did not like what it said to him, and chose to cut it up and throw it into the fire. That was a terrible move for him. Eventually, King Jehoiakim died and his kingdom went captive to Babylon just as God had said in the words Jehoiakim cut up. But we are not super worried about Jehoiakim anyway. What we need to think about is our own response to the word of God.

Friends, may we be people who honor and respect the Lord by treasuring his word. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable (2 Tim. 3:16). The word of God tells us who God is and what God requires. The Bible tells us how to be forgiven by God and to live to please him once he has adopted us into his family. May we never ignore God’s word or dishonor God by disrespecting his word.

Two Types of Prophets

Examining the claims of those who claim faith, we find that the message is not consistent. This makes it hard for people from outside the church to understand our claims. After all, one group will say one thing and one another. Who is to say who is right? One group claims a gospel of salvation by grace through faith in Christ. Another proclaims a gospel of liberation, of financial prosperity, of throwing off of all restraints. Who is telling the truth? Or do we just get to pick and choose?

In Jeremiah’s day, not long before the fall of Jerusalem in the early sixth century BC, there were contradictory claims coming from the religious. And this is important for us to see. You see, God was only putting forth one message, no matter what multiple groups were claiming.

Jeremiah 14:13-16 – 13 Then I said: “Ah, Lord God, behold, the prophets say to them, ‘You shall not see the sword, nor shall you have famine, but I will give you assured peace in this place.’ ” 14 And the Lord said to me: “The prophets are prophesying lies in my name. I did not send them, nor did I command them or speak to them. They are prophesying to you a lying vision, worthless divination, and the deceit of their own minds. 15 Therefore thus says the Lord concerning the prophets who prophesy in my name although I did not send them, and who say, ‘Sword and famine shall not come upon this land’: By sword and famine those prophets shall be consumed. 16 And the people to whom they prophesy shall be cast out in the streets of Jerusalem, victims of famine and sword, with none to bury them—them, their wives, their sons, and their daughters. For I will pour out their evil upon them.

Jeremiah was carrying the word of God to the people. He was warning against the coming judgment of God. He warned the people to turn from their sin. He warned them to prepare for the invasion to come and the captivity to follow.

But other prophets were assuring the people that there was no judgment they would face at all. These prophets told the nation that soon prosperity would overtake them. These men were gaining personal wealth and social status by telling the people things the people already believed and wanted to hear. They were preying on the people’s greed and lust and idolatry to gain influence. And God promised that these men and their followers were in big trouble.

But how do we know? How can we tell who is right? How can we know who speaks the real message of God and who is misleading us? Notice what Jeremiah tells us about himself.

Jeremiah 15:16

Your words were found, and I ate them,
and your words became to me a joy
and the delight of my heart,
for I am called by your name,
O Lord, God of hosts.

Jeremiah tells us that he has the words of God. But, in our world today, who now has the word of God? Who has a genuine message from God? Let me make it simple for you. The one who has a true message from God is not the one claiming personal, supernatural, spiritual revelation. The one who is talking to us from God is not the one who claims that the word of God and the ways of God have changed. The person with the message from God is not the person who is trying to shape Christianity according to the present culture or according to the modern intellectual theories of oppression and power playing. No, these are not and have never been the voice of God.

What is the voice of God? Scripture, Holy Scripture, the Bible is the word of God. The same Scripture that was completed in the first century, that has been preserved for generations, that has been translated for our ability to read it, that is the word of God. And the one who is bringing us the message of God is the one who loves the word, communicates to us the word, and is faithful to cleanly handle and interpret the word. The one bringing us the voice of God is the one not telling us new things, but the old, old story of the holy God who rescues sinners in Christ, God the Son. The one telling the truth is the one who lets Scripture speak for itself, who upholds God standards for justice, for faithful living, for kindness, for marriage, for sexuality, for honesty, for worship, and for all that God commands.

Do you want to know who is telling the truth? Do you want to hear the voice of God? Open the Bible. Study it faithfully and prayerfully. Do not look for hidden codes and secret mysteries. Do not look for ways to make it say the opposite of what it actually says. Just love the word and you will be loving the voice of God. Do not fall for those who claim to speak for God while ignoring or inverting the word of God. But follow the counsel of those who honestly, simply, clearly, and faithfully open the word to the people.

Stopping the Pendulum

Sometimes when I think of issues of error, I imagine a pendulum. What I mean is that there is often an overreaction to error that leads to a contrasting overreaction.

For example, imagine a group comes to a conclusion that their services of worship lack zeal and joy; they are too formal and stiff. What will the reaction be? Often, the response will be to throw off reverence and swing dramatically too far toward a service that is chaotic. Later, perhaps years later, that same group will recognize the disorder and chaos in their services and strive for reverence. But, in doing so, this group might in fac, sap the joy and zeal from the services. The pendulum swings.

Or, take as another example the issue of eschatology. For a time, a church might avoid all discussion of end times theology. Suddenly, the leaders recognize that they have been neglecting this doctrine. The swinging pendulum then leads to a group, if they are not wise, talking end-times non-stop so much so that the focus seems to be totally on the return of Jesus with little focus on living in faithfulness and hope in the present. Then, if the group corrects its course, it may again find itself putting the topic of eschatology away too much and acting as though prophecy simply is not a part of the New Testament.

The picture of a swinging pendulum is one that comes into my mind when I think of issues relating to legalism, especially the moralistic side of legalism. How does the Christian respond to the commands of God? We know God’s word is good. We know that his law is perfect, and his commands are always, absolutely right. But we probably have been in places where a focus on the commands of God has led to a moralistic religion.

I certainly have been among believers who focused so much on rules that they became quite similar to the Pharisees. These folks took simple commands of God and expanded them well beyond biblical intent to prescribe a particular code of conduct for believers that could not be found in the word. You will find such things in commands that appear arbitrary among groups—don’t play cards, don’t listen to music with a syncopated rhythm, don’t ever touch alcohol, here is the dress code for all people at all times, etc.

But what happens if we see a pendulum swing away from such moralism? We need to see that swing stop before it goes too far. Otherwise we end up with antinomianism, a throwing off of all law or commands. You will see this in groups that become so radically grace focused that they are unwilling to call anything sin. You see it in groups that so revel in being “real” and being “authentic” that they refuse to speak out against the actions of anyone in their group for fear that they will come off as not gracious, the only sin they seem to continue to acknowledge. You will see it in groups who claim to be Christians, but who completely ignore the word of God when it comes to social issues or modern morality.

How do we avoid a dangerous pendulum swing between legalism and lawlessness? The answer is in the word. Love the word.

Psalm 119:20, 24

20 My soul is consumed with longing
for your rules at all times.
24 Your testimonies are my delight;
they are my counselors.

Look here at how David speaks of God’s law, his rules. He longs for the law of God. He finds the law and testimony of God his delight. There is a genuine love of the word of God—yes, the rules and commands of God—that is present in the heart of a genuinely godly person.

So, if your pendulum is swinging away from Scripture, there is a big problem. If you look at the commands of the word as things about which to be embarrassed, you are headed toward lawlessness. If you see what God says about our lives, our marriages, our sexuality, our finances, our self-control, our eternities and you find it off-putting, you must recognize that there is a problem with your love of the Lord.

But how do we avoid a pendulum swing toward legalism? This is actually simple: love the word. When you genuinely love the word of God, you do not find any reason to think you need to improve upon it. You see God’s affirmation of modesty and his prohibitions against immorality, and you will govern how you dress and behave by that word. You will see God’s word speaking out against drunkenness, and you, when you are of age, will make your own decisions about whether or not drinking at all is wise for you. You will see God’s word speaking about the church being full of reverence, full of joy, living as a family and a body, and you will develop life in accord with biblical commands. As you love the word, you will watch the word counsel you to seek the counsel of other lovers of the word in your local church to help you make word-centered, godly decisions. The more you genuinely love the word, the more you let the word speak, the more that the word alone is your final standard, the more you will avoid both errors of moralism and legalism.

Love the word. Love the word so much that you deeply desire to obey the word. Love the word so much that you do not in any way want to add to it to try to improve it. Stop the pendulum from swinging toward moralism or toward antinomianism, toward legalism or lawlessness, by loving the word of God, all of it.

What We Renounce

I recently wrote a post on a dangerous pragmatism that tempts believers. Often with good motives—a desire for the glory of God, the salvation of the lost, or the growth of the church—believers will face the temptation to compromise. Some of these compromises feel small. Some are obviously large. But no generation of Christians has ever been without the temptation to change this or that to achieve greater success or an easier life.

So, when I read Paul’s statement in 2 Corinthians 4, I found myself very glad to see the clear, biblical affirmation of a commitment to avoid things that are easy for us to give in to.

2 Corinthians 4:2-3 – 2 But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing.

Paul would not practice underhanded ways. Paul would not, ever, allow himself to tamper with Scripture. This must be the attitude and heart of any faithful believer.

Are we tempted to tamper with Scripture? Of course we are. Some are tempted to deny the Bible’s infallibility and inerrancy. Some believe that the Bible is accurate to its day, but no longer applicable in its commands as we live in a more enlightened era. Some agree with Scripture completely, but wish to hide from view certain passages that we find embarrassing in a culture that would be offended by them.

What about practicing cunning? How much of that is going on? I think you need only look from organization to organization with the name “church” to see. There are all sorts of strategies being employed to get people to hear a message. Some strategies are not problems. Churches that attempt to reach out in honesty and kindness in their towns are not compromising anything. But what about those who use bait-and-switch tactics to attempt to sneak a message in on folks? Is there any evidence in Scripture of a Christian surprising someone with an unexpected gospel presentation? Certainly not. Nor is there any biblical pattern of Christians pretending to be interested in one area only to then shift and become gospel focused at a later time. This is just not how honest Christians operate. We need not be underhanded. We most certainly are not asked to be tricky. We are to be clear, plain, bold, and honest.

Like Paul, may we learn to be committed to the open proclamation of the gospel and the word of God. May we commend ourselves and our message with no form of deception whatsoever. May we trust that some will receive that message because of the working of God on the hearts of the elect. May we understand that those who are hostile to the clear gospel are not put off by our lack of trickery, but by their sin nature and the blinding influences of the world, the flesh, and the devil. May we be able to say that we renounce all that is underhanded out of a clear love of and trust in the Lord and his word.

A Key to Fearing God

Christians, if we have been biblically taught, we know that we are supposed to be God-fearers. But we do struggle to know what that looks like. I have suggested in the past that fearing God for the believer is different than fearing God as a non-believer. We do not desire to run and hide from the Lord. We are not those who cry out to the mountains to fall on us and cover us from the sight of the Lord. While we are in awe of the Lord and we know that we cannot stand before him without his covering of grace, our fear of the Lord leads us to fall to our knees and cry, “Holy!”

What does fearing God look like in a Christian’s daily life? What will it change? I thought of those questions while reading through Psalm 112. Look at the parallel of the first verse, and see what the psalmist equates with fearing God.

Psalm 112:1

Praise the Lord!
Blessed is the man who fears the Lord,
who greatly delights in his commandments!

How do we know who fears the Lord? The man fears God who greatly delights in God’s commandments. This is evidence of being a God-fearer.

How do you feel about the commandments of God? Are you one who constantly points out the fact that following God is not about rules and commandments? Are you one who looks for the minimum of what you might call mere Christianity? Or, as you know God, do you delight in his commands, all of them? Are you embarrassed by God’s standards when you talk with the lost? Do you wish you could hide God’s word from them? Or do you see that the word of God is perfect, his laws glorious? No, I’m not talking about any form of legalism here. But I am suggesting that a God-fearer loves even the commands of God.

A true God-fearer delights in God’s commandments. That means that, as we know and love the Lord, as we properly reverence and honor the Lord, we will also love his ways. God commanded nothing in history that was not perfect. If we allow ourselves to be ashamed of the commands of God, we show that we do not yet properly fear God. God’s rules for life are worth more than thousands of gold and silver pieces. God’s word is perfect, reviving our souls. God’s word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. God’s word is precious in every way. And God’s standards, even those most hated and despised by the world around us, should bring us delight.

Christian, fear God. How? Delight in the word of God. Delight in the ways of God. Delight in the commands of God. And any time you feel yourself wanting to shrink back from the word of God, remember that God is holy, and God-fearers delight in his word and his ways.

Politically Correct or Biblical

I would love it if my nature had never been corrupted by the modern influence of secular political correctness. The funny thing is, most who are deeply concerned about such things would assume that I have never been influenced by that idea. Perhaps you also think that the unbiblical standards of our society have not influenced you. But I wonder.

When I was reading through Psalm 104, I came across the ending. Like the endings of several psalms, it says some things that do not sound, well, sensitive in a modern context.

The psalm opens with a great deal of praise to God. The author praises God for his power in creation and in how he sustains all of the universe. Such is pretty easy to read and not feel any tension. But then the ending comes.

Psalm 104:33-35

33 I will sing to the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praise to my God while I have being.
34 May my meditation be pleasing to him,
for I rejoice in the Lord.
35 Let sinners be consumed from the earth,
and let the wicked be no more!
Bless the Lord, O my soul!
Praise the Lord!

The praising of God is generally socially acceptable, at least at the time of this writing, generally, perhaps, in some parts of the country, if you do it in a non-offensive way, well…. Either way, what I am saying is that verses 33-34 are not what most are going to notice.

Look at verse 35. It’s ending is all nice too. Bless the Lord is acceptable in our minds and does not cause us any discomfort. But how do you, Christian, deal with the beginning lines of verse 35? God’s word says, in a song, “Let sinners be consumed from the earth, and let the wicked be no more!” That, dear friends, is not socially acceptable.

But stop and ask a pair of questions. The first one is the bigger one. Are you going to sit in judgment of the word of God? God’s word is inspired and profitable. God’s word teaches us, rebukes us, corrects us, and trains us in righteousness. Are you going to dare suggest that his word, his revelation of himself and his ways, is not up to your standard? Be very careful. We are to be conformed to the image of God, not the other way around.

The second question involves the content itself. I think that many cringe at lines that suggest that it would be a good thing for God to wipe out the wicked. But what do you really want? Do you want the Lord to leave the world full of wickedness?

Have you ever considered the basic inconsistency of those who are upset by lines like the ones at the end of this psalm? Is it not interesting that the group which opposes the faith often does so for contradictory reasons? These folks express that they are mad that God allows evil people to do evil things—how can God not jump in and stop such people. They are also mad at the idea that God would ever judge the wicked so as to remove them from this world or to punish them for their deeds—I can’t believe in a God who would judge someone or violate their free will. But you cannot keep both of those objections and be logically consistent.

The world looks at lines like those in verse 35 and decries the hatred and violence of the faith. But this is an unfair criticism. Christians who are biblical do not attempt to spread the faith through physical force. Any who have attempted to use the threat of violence to force a supposed conversion are well beyond the warrant of Scripture. It is not hatred to look at actions that are opposing the standard of the word of God and call said actions sin. That is precisely what we are supposed to do. Jesus certainly did. The psalmist here has no qualms about calling wickedness wicked.

Christians, let’s be careful not to let ourselves be so shaped by the world around us that we try to explain away lines like those at the end of this psalm. Yes, we want to see people turn from sin and be saved. But we also should long for the Lord to do justice, including bringing his judgment on the wicked. This is not us thinking we are better than others. We have been the wicked ourselves. What makes us different is the saving grace of Jesus. So we do not look at anyone as if we are superior. We simply look to the Lord, see his standards, and pray, your kingdom come; your will be done.” And we who know the word know that such a prayer includes a call for his justice as well as his saving grace.

Another Call not to Add to God’s Word

Proverbs 30:5-6

5 Every word of God proves true;
he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.
6 Do not add to his words,
lest he rebuke you and you be found a liar.
God’s words are all true, every one of them. All Scripture is perfect and perfectly inspired by God. As believers, our lives hang on that truth. If God’s word is untrue, there is simply no source of authority upon which we can rely. Since God has spoken, inspiring a perfect word, we can know him and know what he requires.

In the proverb above, we also see the wise reminder that we must not add to that holy and perfect word of God. If we do, God will prove us to be liars.

Where does it happen that mankind attempts to add to the word of God? Some add to God’s word by declaring that god has said to them things he did not say. Be very careful when you claim that God has told you something. It is much wiser for a Christian to express that he or she feels like something is the Lord’s will or that he or she, after much prayer, has a strong desire to do this or that. But when a person says that God has told them something, he or she is walking on dangerous ground. If that thing that you claim that the Lord has told you proves to be untrue, are you not entering the realm of the false prophet?

But it is not merely the false claim of divine communication that is adding to the word of God today. Many add to the word of God because they are submitting to the culture around us and extrapolating principles from secular thinking to read back into God’s word. The person who adds to Scripture a secular standard of justice is, in a sense, adding to the word of God. The person who reads into Scripture modern sexual ethics is adding to the word of God. The one who reads into Scripture modern views of gender that differ from the clearly given Scripture is adding to the word of God. And the word of God tells us that, in all these, the person who reads such things in such ways will be proven a liar by God himself.

May we treasure the word of God. May we remember that there is no value that we can add to the word of God. We are far better off honoring God by simply reading, understanding, and faithfully explaining the word of God. God wants you to know his word, understand his word, apply his word, and live by his word.

Context is King

In biblical interpretation, no rule rises above the simple necessity of interpreting a verse in its context. All Scripture is breathed out by God. All Scripture, every individual word and verse, is perfect and perfectly inspired by God. We call that the doctrine of plenary, verbal inspiration. All Scripture is sufficient to bring about in us all that the Lord intends for us concerning life and godliness (cf. 2 Peter 1:3).

As we deal with this perfect and holy text, one major mistake that we make is in thinking that we can handle an individual verse as an individual thing. This is not the case. Verses of Scripture are not individual pearls that can be separated from the strand and admired as single jewels. Instead, the flow of verses together, the building of arguments and proclamations are vital to our rightly handling the Bible.

Take the verse often quoted in prosperity theology, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13). Out of context, that appears to be a verse in which a man or woman can claim aptitude for any profession and strength for magnificent accomplishment in Christ. Thus, a Christian baseball player hits a homerun every time because of Jesus (Don’t ask what happens if the pitcher is a believer too.).

But let’s take a peek at context. Paul was in prison in Rome and writing to the Philippians. The Philippians had found out about Paul’s time of trial, and they had sent help his way. They were concerned for his wellbeing, and they seem to have sent a gift or two to supply his physical needs while under arrest. Look at the passage in that light.

Philippians 4:10–13 – 10 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

In verses 11-12, Paul says that he is particularly not trying to tell the Philippians that he could not survive without a little more money. ON the contrary, Paul was telling the church that he, under the tutelage of Christ, had learned to be content. He was content when he had nice clothes and a soft bed. He was content when he suffered great hardships.

Paul’s willingness to survive whether he has plenty or goes hungry is the context for the statement, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” The phrase, “all things,” does not have anything to do with hitting a baseball, leading a corporation, performing a miracle, or investing in the stock market. No, the all things that he can do, in context, is the all things of living in times of plenty and times of want. Paul is saying, in the all things he can do through Christ, that he can be poor, devastatingly poor, and still love Jesus. And Paul is saying that he can have a very nice cash flow, and not love it more than Jesus.

Paul’s words have nothing to do with naming a prosperity and claiming it as his right. On the contrary, Paul is saying that he will joyfully live through all circumstances, happy and sad, by the strength of Jesus. As we often hear in wedding vows, Paul is saying that he has learned to joyfully trust in Jesus for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, in prosperity and in adversity.

Let Philippians 4:13 give you joy, but not ripped out of the flow of the text. That verse reminds us that we can love Jesus and be OK in all sorts of easy and hard times. Our circumstances, our wealth, our poverty, have nothing to do with our relationship with God. There will be wealthy Christians and poor Christians. There will be sick Christians and healthy Christians. There will be pro athletes and folks who cannot control their weight. There will be corporate CEOs and hard-working ditch-diggers. And the trick is for us to know that, because of Jesus, because of his strength, because of his Holy Spirit, we can learn to do all things, handle all circumstances, because of our Lord.


When God’s Word is not Your Authority

I was having a conversation with someone recently about Christianity, and I found it sad to continually need to speak to the difference between a biblical Christianity as opposed to so much else that is out there. That led me to think about how sad it is that so many organizations and groups put on the word Christian as a title even when they clearly oppose the fundamentals of the faith.

Then I read through a few chapters in Judges, and I saw a thread that helps me understand how in the world this has happened in the modern world.

In Judges 17-18, we read a very dark, very ugly story. A man named Micah steals money from his mom. When he gives it back, his mom blesses him. That actually makes some sense. Mom is proud of her boy being honest. But look what she tells him to do with the money.

Judges 17:3 – And he restored the 1,100 pieces of silver to his mother. And his mother said, “I dedicate the silver to the Lord from my hand for my son, to make a carved image and a metal image. Now therefore I will restore it to you.”

Wait a minute. She said that she dedicated the silver to the Lord. Thus, she is saying that what she is doing is something she fully expects the God of the Bible to be pleased with. But in her next breath, she says that the silver should be used for the fashioning of a carved image. She would call her religion faithful. But she is violating two clear commands of God.

Exodus 20:4-6 – 4 “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.

God is absolutely, abundantly, crystal clear. He forbids those who would worship him doing so through the fashioning of images. This woman has commanded her son, as an act of worship, worship she believes is of the Lord, to do what God says never ever do.

Exodus 20:7 – You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.

Because the woman uses the name of the Lord in her pronouncement, she is also violating this, the third commandment. She shows us a perfect example of what it means to take the Lord’s name in vain. She is using the name of God in a way that is false. She is calling something of God that is exactly opposite. She is using the name of God in an empty and meaningless way.

The story gets worse. Micah finds a Levite wandering around the countryside, not staying put and serving the Lord as he should have done. The Levite is not holding fast to the word of God or teaching others the law as he should have done. And Micah invites the Levite to serve him as a priest. The Levite is happy to help. And now he has joined Micah in his idolatry.

Judges 17:13 – Then Micah said, “Now I know that the Lord will prosper me, because I have a Levite as priest.”

Micah thinks that his sin will lead to his prosperity. Why? He thinks that having a Levite as priest is enough to guarantee him God’s blessing. He has no worry about the commands of God.

In chapter 18, men from the tribe of Dan have failed to settle in their allotted land. They want to take a spot for themselves, and they send out an armed force. ON the way, scouts discover Micah’s house and the idols therein.

Judges 18:14 – Then the five men who had gone to scout out the country of Laish said to their brothers, “Do you know that in these houses there are an ephod, household gods, a carved image, and a metal image? Now therefore consider what you will do.”

What should be the response of the men to this? They should go in with their swords drawn to destroy those idols and to execute those who are polluting the land of Israel with their violations of the word of God (cf. Deut. 13:1-18). But what do they do instead? They go in, take the idols and the Levite with them, and set him up as their own priest to those idols in their new tribal home.

Then, as the story closes, we get a revelation that ought to knock us over.

Judges 18:30 – And the people of Dan set up the carved image for themselves, and Jonathan the son of Gershom, son of Moses, and his sons were priests to the tribe of the Danites until the day of the captivity of the land.

Woah. The Levite who played priest for the Danites, the one who helped Micah and his household worship idols, the one who was wandering the countryside instead of serving the Lord and teaching his word, he was a grandson of Moses. It is possible that he was a great or multiple great grandson, as we do not always record every single generation in a verse like this one. But, either way, this man was a direct descendant from Moses, the Moses, Ten Commands and parting the Red Sea and delivering the law of God Moses. Yet this man pretended that his worshipping of idols was somehow pleasing to God.

And again, to tie this all together, I ask, “What happened?” Why did this happen in the Old Testament? And I add to that question this one: Why do things like this happen in the church today? Why are people who claim to be Christians so easily able to promote things that are in direct violation of the word of God?

The answer is in the sinfulness of the human heart. But the answer is also in the book of Judges.

Judges 17:6 – In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.

The problem is that everyone was doing what was right in his own eyes. The problem is that nobody was standing up and holding to the authority of the written word of God. No king was in the land to tell the people that they are to submit to the law of God. And so, corruption crept in.

And the very same is the problem in the broad swath of people in our land who use the word Christian as a label. If they are not holding to the word of God as the ultimate and final authority for all things related to faith and practice, for all doctrine, for all our lives, they will be just like the people who are doing what is right in their own eyes. That leads to foolish ideas. It leads to people who would bow to a statue and call it worshipping God. It leads to people who would violate the command of God and, with a straight face, declare that violation of the law of God to be the thing that pleases God.

What is your authority for what you believe and how you live? Is it Scripture? Or is your authority your own opinions? Is your authority the word of God or some teacher or collection of teachers? If you wish to be genuinely Christian, you must find your authority in the word of God rightly and clearly interpreted and applied.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 – 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.